We greet Black History Month 2009 celebrating the 20th anniversary of The National Day of Prayer for the African-American Family with new hope and the blessed assurance that “we’ve got something to celebrate.”
On Jan. 20, 2009, one of our families moved into the White House. It was a history-making event, broadcast around the world. It etched an everlasting memory on the psyche and minds of millions. For some individuals, that memory established a new paradigm and a new appreciation of the black family.
The First Family of the United States caused me to once again ponder and reflect, how the family unit influences and defines each member’s spiritual, mental and cultural formation. It is within the family that each of us catches new ideas and perspectives, dreams dreams and identifies goals and pathways to life. It is the family that connects us to the wider society. His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI articulated the same sentiment during the Fifth World Meeting of Families in 2006: “The family is an intermediate institution between individuals and society, and nothing can completely take its place.”
Let us not forget too that Pope John Paul II said that the family is “the pathway to building up the church.”
While we have much to celebrate, we still have work to do in strengthening our families, for we live in some challenging times. Rest assured, none of us can make it on our own. We need Jesus to be the center of our families to provide strength. We need the Eucharist to be “the food of truth” (Pope Benedict XVI) as we navigate through these times. We need the “fruit of the Gospels” to steer us in the right direction, lest we lose our way. We need each other, young and old, as we help each other and sturdy our steps to walk into the future. That is why Father James E. Goode, O.F.M., founder of the National Day of Prayer for the African-American Family, strongly suggests that our families gather in prayer and worship on the first Sunday of Black History Month.
So, let’s make a list and check it twice, inviting everyone you know to gather at Mass for this first Sunday of Black History Month. Continue your celebration at one of your family member’s homes, eating and discussing ways in which we can strengthen our families.
Dr. Robert Hill, noted sociologist who has for decades researched the strengths and specificities of the African-American family, writes: “Religious orientation is noted as one of the strengths of African-American families and that families affiliated with a church tend to have higher education, income, etc. … It is the church that has a vast network of spiritual, social, educational and pastoral resources that can strengthen the family.” That insight is a clue for evangelization as well as strengthening our families.
One of my dear mother’s (Margaret R. Wilson) famous quotes on family says we make family where we find family. Perhaps this Black History Month, let’s make the entire neighborhood where our parishes reside, our family. Let’s invite everyone in the neighborhood to our parishes as we celebrate the National Day of Prayer for the African-American Family on Feb. 1, 2009. We’ve got something to celebrate. We belong to God and God belongs to us.
Resources are available for families as you celebrate this awesome gift of the family. Call the Office of African American Catholic Ministries at 410-625-8472 or visit the National Black Catholic Apostolate for Life Web site, www.blackcatholicsforlife.org
Therese Wilson Favors is director of the Office of African American Catholic Ministries.